The Scarlet Letter
Musical in 2 acts. The Scarlet Letter is a collaborative work of five co-authors: Stacey Mancine, Daniel Koloski, Simon Gray, Michael Bahar, and Eric Braverman.
Presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - August 2001
1630. A terrible storm tosses a ship sailing for Massachusetts Bay. The following morning, sun illuminates the crowded deck of the ship Arabella as the coast of the New World is sighted. It has been a long and perilous journey from England and the passengers are weak and exhausted. As the craggy shores grow closer, their powerful leader, John Winthrop, unites them all in a glowing vision.
1642. Twelve years later, the town of Boston is thriving. Townspeople are tilling the soil, making clothing, hunting animals, felling trees. Their lives are harsh and unrewarding, but they have succeeded in building a society amidst the wild. A town crier announces the trial of Hester Prynne, a woman accused of adultery and bearing an illegitimate child. The whereabouts of Hester’s husband are unknown and he is feared shipwrecked. The shadowy Mistress Hibbins loudly speculates who the father of Hester’s child might be, reveling in the gossip she creates. The town elders, led by Governor Winthrop and Hibbins’ brother, Governor Bellingham, arrive in the town with the town clergymen, Reverend John Wilson, and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. The townspeople gather to watch the trial as Hester is led from jail, with the baby in her arms, to her place on the scaffold. A stranger, Roger Chillingworth, arrives and he and Hester see each other as she is interrogated by Winthrop and Dimmesdale. When she refuses to offer the name of her secret lover, Winthrop sentences Hester to one final night in prison and to an eternity of public indignation-- the permanent wearing of the Scarlet Letter “A”. The crowd prays for the Lord’s mercy and His guidance of the colony.
Later that same day, dusk is falling and the elders gather to discuss the day’s events. A mysterious figure walks quickly by, but is stopped by Governor Winthrop. After tepid conversation, the elders learn that stranger’s name is Roger Chillingworth, and that he is a doctor. Dimmesdale, appearing distant, is called into the conversation and soon invites the stranger to stay in the empty room in his home.
When night falls, Hester is led back into her jail cell. Her marble façade begins to crack in the solitude, as her baby cries in a makeshift crib by the only window. Agitated, distressed and flooded with agonizing questions, she eventually tosses her scarlet A to the floor (HESTER IN JAIL). When she looks up, however, Roger Chillingworth is at the door. He has gained entry under the guise that he is a doctor sent to administer to the mother and child. When they are alone, they have a tense confrontation during which it is revealed that Roger is Hester’s long lost husband who has finally returned to her after being shipwrecked and living with the natives for several years. Roger is outraged at Hester’s indiscretion and demands the name of the child’s father. Hester refuses and Roger vows to stay in Boston until he roots out her lover. They swear not to reveal that they know each other. Roger leaves the trembling Hester. Eventually, a ray of moonlight shines through the bars of the window onto the face of her sleeping daughter. She is drawn to her child, and begins to experience a comfort, a purpose, and a resolve. She will be free AT THE BREAK OF DAY, but she knows her sentence has only begun.
1642-1649. Hester is a figure of hate among the resentful Townspeople who treat her with bitter disdain and outbursts of petty violence. Roger Chillingworth is welcomed as the town physician, and takes up residence in an available room at the home of Reverend Dimmesdale. As the years pass, the colony grows in size and certain free-thinking individuals threaten to undermine the singularity of Winthrop’s vision. We see further evidence of the colony’s merciless treatment of its deviants. Governor Winthrop is ailing in his old age, but remains a cherished leader in the community, aided more and more by the blustery Bellingham and the sternly pious Wilson. Dimmesdale has firmly established himself as the premier orator of the town (HYMN). In time, Hester establishes herself as an expert seamstress and provides the hypocritical and jealous townspeople with finely woven linens and articles of clothing. She works hard to provide for her daughter, Pearl, who is growing into an active and ebullient child. As Pearl gets older and more uncontrollable, her impish ways arouse the ire of the colonists. She is the elf-child. As the years pass, Mistress Hibbins tries to entice Hester into the forest to join her sisterhood and develops a special fondness for Pearl whom she considers to be a kindred spirit. Against all this, the townspeople ostensibly reaffirm their vision of the City Upon a Hill, and Hester fears she may never earn acceptance.
Seven years after he arrived in Boston, Roger has become bitter with his failure to track down the man who has stolen his wife. He hatches a plan to root out the culprit by urging the removal of the child from her mother and observing who, if anyone, comes to their aid. Eventually, his musings and machinations are cut short by news that the increasingly frail Dimmesdale has fainted. Roger hurries to the home they share and administers a potion. The two men share a warm camaraderie based on their mutual longing for lives left behind in England. As they reminisce, they contemplate why they have come to the New World and where their journey will take them. Left alone and unable to write his sermon, Dimmesdale daydreams of Hester and Pearl.
Pearl, now seven years old, plays capriciously in the woods, singing a strange and free-spirited song while ignoring calls of her mother to return home. Mistress Hibbins, observing the young child, comes out of hiding and urges Hester to join her in the woods. When Hester declines, Mistress Hibbins reveals the secret she had overheard. The plot hatched by Roger is beginning to unfold. Hester races to the mansion to confront the elders
In a tense meeting at the Governor's Hall, the elders decide that Pearl should be removed from Hester’s home and raised in a Christian environment, given the mounting paranoia from the community that several women, including Hester and Pearl, are practicing witchcraft. When Hester arrives with Pearl, a debilitated and aged Winthrop attempts to calm the mother with great diplomatic skill. The bumbling Bellingham, on the other hand, tries to placate her while the patronizing Wilson tries to examine the child. The desperation of Hester and the increasing agitation of Pearl frightens Wilson who pronounces that they must take the girl at once. In a desperate plea to Dimmesdale, the first words she has spoken to him in seven years, Hester begs the pastor to speak for her. Dimmesdale, touched by the sight of Pearl who seems instinctually drawn to him for protection, delivers a tender and heartfelt petition to the Governors that Pearl be allowed to stay with her mother. Winthrop is moved by Dimmesdale’s words, much to the chagrin of Bellingham and Wilson. The dying governor, knowing that this decision will be his last contribution to the colony, pays tribute to Hester’s hard work in the community and allows her to keep her child on condition she is brought up a God-fearing Christian.
Roger notes to himself Dimmesdale’s heretofore unobserved compassion for Hester and her daughter.
Hester is left alone and begins to wonder whether the heart of her child’s father might be changing and whether her own life might now take a turn (THE TURNING).
Later that night, Dimmesdale, unable to sleep and frustrated by his inability to write his sermon, wanders out into the night, drawing closer with each staggered step to the scaffold on which Hester stood seven years earlier. Hibbins foretells of a nightmare about to unfold as Roger’s suspicions of Dimmesdale plague his mind (REVELATIONS). Before Roger can confront Dimmesdale he is called to the home of Governor Winthrop who is moments away from death. As word of the Governor's imminent death spreads through the town, Dimmesdale remains on the scaffold, tormented by visions of demons that are torturing his soul for the secret he keeps. Finally, he screams his confession, but to no avail: the town is silent except for the distant knell announcing the death of the Governor. The Reverend collapses on the scaffold, his secret remaining within.
Hester and Pearl arrive from the Governor’s deathbed where Hester was measuring him for his burial robes. Dimmesdale thinks he is dreaming and calls Hester and Pearl to him. They join him on the scaffold, where Dimmesdale takes the child’s hand. The townspeople gather in the Town Square to mourn their Governor in a candlelight vigil as a terrific display of shooting stars streaks across the blackened sky. Bellingham delivers a passionate eulogy.. Roger arrives and, from the shadows, observes Dimmesdale on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl. He has at last found the culprit. (WHO IS THIS MAN?) As dawn breaks, however, Roger does not spring the trap, but rather sets a new one. Smiling warmly, he leads Dimmesdale from the scaffold by the arm, promising to make his patient well again Hester and Pearl are left alone on the scaffold as the sun rises over the City Upon a Hill.
END ACT ONE
Not long after Winthrop’s death, Mistress Hibbins is still holding secret meetings in the forest with other cloaked women of the colony. They curse and dance around a campfire, and revel in the independence they only have at night deep in the mire. Mistress Hibbins urges her “sisterhood” to see through the pious façade which blinds the rest of the town, to celebrate their predestiny and tobe true to their hearts. The price of an eternity of damnation should not be a life of hellfire.
As the witches disperse at daybreak, Roger is drawn into the mire where the remains of Hibbins’ campfire smolder. As he rummages around for bits of herbs to use in his potions, he is confronted by Hester who has sought him out to discuss the health of Dimmesdale. Hester tells Roger that she must reveal his secret identity to Dimmesdale, and that she cannot watch him torture her child’s father any longer. Roger accepts Hester’s decision to expose his identity to Dimmesdale, but vows to exact his revenge nonetheless. They part ways agreeing to let the “black flower blossom as it may”.
Knowing that the endgame is upon them, Roger begins to stir his final potion. As he swirls the deep scarlet concoction, he is drawn hypnotically to its lethal exhale. He brings the vile to his lips, but is startled by the disfigured reflection in the glass. He descends into madness as he wonders what he has become. Eventually, he cuts himself and lets his own scarlet blood fall to the floor. Before his blood empties out, he stops the wound, and resolves to see the game to its end.
Later that day, Dimmesdale is alone in his study, fitfully asleep at his desk. Roger enters and places his cold hand on Dimmesdale’s chest, ostensibly to check for a pulse. Dimmesdale is still alive—and Roger smiles. Dimmesdale awakens with a start, and the final phase has begun. Roger mixes the potion as he tries to get Dimmesdale to confess. Roger is confronted still with Dimmesdale’s refusal and religious insistence. He torments between killing Dimmesdale directly and allowing him to debilitate further in hopes of obtaining that confession. Frustrated, he chooses the former, but Dimmesdale is startled by Pearl’s laughter and runs for the door, dropping the potion to the floor.
Dimmesdale runs deep into the woods, drawn inexplicably to the Brook. It is there he finds Hester and Pearl. As Pearl plays in the water, Hester and Dimmesdale reflect upon the seven years of silence between them, and realize that they are still in love. Hester reveals that Roger is her husband and Dimmesdale is shaken deep inside. Hester lets her hair down, tears the Scarlet Letter from her dress, and convinces Dimmesdale that they could escape their suffering and sail back to England to start over as a family. They pledge to sail away from Boston on the next boat (THE BROOK). Dimmesdale exits, dropping his cloak in breathless haste. Hester takes Pearl in the opposite direction, but Pearl stops suddenly at the sight of her mother’s empty chest. She spots the scarlet letter and, grabbing it, sticks it back on her mother’s chest. The clouds gather and the storm begins. Hester and Pearl run off. Roger comes into the open and picks up Dimmesdale’s cloak. He is devastated.
The townspeople prepare for the annual Election Day holiday which will honor Bellingham who has succeeded the late Governor Winthrop. Hester purchases three tickets back to England from a Ship Captain. As soon as she leaves, Roger purchases one for himself. Hibbins confronts Roger noisily, and when Reverend Wilson (who has no idea of the plans afoot) upbraids her, she remains defiant. Reverend Wilson has finally had enough, and orders for her to be taken away. There is great unrest in the rapidly growing city, and as they prepare to symbolically unite behind Bellingham, it is clear that they are a city divided by many issues, on the threshold of enormous change.
As she prepares to leave Boston later that night, Hester reflects that life is made up of journeys and choices and turnings.
Later that same night, Dimmesdale is at his desk at home, unable to write the Election Day sermon because he is paralyzed by guilt and fear (THE CONFRONTATION). Roger confronts Dimmesdale there again—this time more urgently and violently. Eventually the psychological torture yields to the physical and Dimmesdale falls to his knees. But, rather than confess, he simply asks to the Lord to take his life. Roger lets the withered and quivering Dimmesdale fall to the floor without delivering the death blow. Instead, he places Dimmesdale’s cloak over the minister’s body, removes the cross Dimmesdale gave him and lets the symbol fall to the floor triumphantly, and contemptuously.
The townspeople eagerly make their way to the Town Square to watch the processional of the town elders and Governor Bellingham to the church. Hester and Pearl are met by the Ship Captain who informs them that Dr. Chillingworth will be joining them on their journey away from Boston. Hester tries to tell Dimmesdale not to meet her on the ship as he passes in the processional but is stopped by Reverend Wilson. Pearl runs off, and Hester and Roger are left standing outside the church as Dimmesdale’s oration begins. Dimmesdale delivers a powerful election day sermon in which he tries to tell the townspeople that he is a sinner. The townspeople believe he is making a symbol of himself and instead of looking down on him, become frenzied in their adoration of him. Unable to bear the adulation of the congregation any longer, Dimmesdale breaks away from the pulpit and runs out into the square, eventually ascending the scaffold. The crowd follows him and, in the chaos that ensues, Hester and Roger both ascend the scaffold as Dimmesdale confesses he is the father of Hester’s child to the stunned crowd below. He collapses into Hester’s arms, finally relieved of his secret, but at the cost of his life. Roger falls upon the steps, defeated by Dimmesdale’s self-confession and escape through death. Drawn to the ethereal song of his little Pearl, Dimmesdale slips away amidst a delicate rain of rose petals.
As the townspeople recede into the distance, Hester realizes that her own journey is ending and her daughter’s is about to begin. Like the wild rose bush alongside the jail, Hester’s place is in the colony. But like the little red bird, Pearl will someday fly away. Hester and Pearl embrace on the scaffold before Pearl descends the steps. The mother releases her grief and places her hopes and dreams onto her precious daughter. Hester is alone now on the scaffold, and she is at peace
- City Upon a Hill Prologue
- Judgment Day
- The Interview
- City Upon a Hill Montage
- The Physician
- The Leech and His Patient
- Small Reminders
- Pearl’s Song
- Come With Me
- Be True
- The Black Flower
- The Leech and His Patient Reprise
- New England Holiday
- Election Day Sermon I
- HESTER PRYNNE (Lyric)
Mid-20s - intensely passionate behind a marble façade, she is strong-willed, hardworking and deeply devoted to those she loves. She is a seamstress in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in Boston. As punishment for adultery, she must wear a scarlet letter "A" on her garments for life. She is the mother of Pearl and also, secretly, both the wife of Roger and the lover of Dimmesdale.
- REV. ARTHUR DIMMESDALE (Tenor - to B)
Late 20s/Early 30s - young, pious, and passionate for ministry, he is consumed both by guilt for his passion and by love for his illegitimate child. He is the highly-respected minister of the colony and a brilliant orator.
- ROGER CHILLINGWORTH (Baritone - belt to F#)
Mid-Late 50s - older and mysterious, dark and "misshapen," he is a brilliant alchemist-turned-physician with a passion for scientific truth. Arriving in the colony on the morning of Hester's sentencing, he brokers a terrible pact with her to keep their marriage secret. Roger dedicates his life in the colony to discovering her lover and exacting revenge.
- PEARL (Soprano/Child - to high F)
7 years old - active, precocious, and intuitive, she is the spirited daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale. Often described as an elf-child, she is at one with nature and the passions of the wild, drawing on her instincts to perceive the inner truths within those around her.
- MISTRESS HIBBINS (Alto with strong belt)
Mid-Late 30s - uninhibited and outspoken, she is described by all as a witch. Seemingly in many places at once, she has an innate sense of human nature, quickly discerning the other characters' emotions and secrets. She throws into relief the hypocrisy and excessive piety of the townspeople and, at times, may even be seen to progress the plot. She is Bellingham's sister.
- GOVERNOR WINTHROP (Baritone)
Late 50s/Early 60s - highly respected, charismatic, popular Governor of the colony. In history, he delivered the iconic "City Upon a Hill" speech aboard the ship Arabella in 1630; that speech, a vision of an ideal colony that serves as a model for the world, united the colonists then and has been used by American leaders for inspiration ever since. As the story unfolds, his health fails rapidly.
- GOVERNOR BELLINGHAM (Baritone/Tenor - belt to high G)
Early 40s - eager and affable, he is an elder of the colony and heir apparent to Winthrop. He is heavily swayed by the counsel of others and is sensitive to public opinion.
- REV. WILSON (Baritone/Tenor)
Mid-Late 50s - first minister of the colony, he is a mentor to Dimmesdale and counselor to the Governor. Precursor to famous minister Jonathan Edwards, he takes a formal, legalistic approach to town events.
TOWNSPEOPLE (Mixed SATB Chorus)
Varying ages/personalities - generally hardworking, pious Puritan colonists. They suffer greatly from agonizing work, hunger, extreme temperatures, and other hardships, but they are consistently told to believe that the founding of a great new colony is in their destiny. If they are to become a "city upon a hill," they must continue to work hard and must remain "knit together in the bonds of brotherly affection."
“City Upon a Hill - Prologue”
Introduces briefly the principal musical and textual themes that anchor the show. Establishes an immediate juxtaposition between the soothing, ethereal quality of the colony’s lofty goals and the stark relief of the more realist sounds of “Judgment Day” (Hester’s sentencing).
“City Upon a Hill”
A fuller exposition of the theme with a take-home beginning and ending. Excerpts from this piece have been considered a prime commercial radio spot.
“Speak For Me”
Solo for the songbooks Startling solo ballad to demonstrate the full range of both Hester’s emotion and also her technicality. The thoughtful reverie of the beginning of the song contrasts sharply with the powerful and trenchant ending. Possibly the song that every 15-year old wants to go home and sing for her auditions.
Character montage Searing climax to Act I, the last time that Dimmesdale, Roger, and Hibbins can truly escape to their individual spaces. Dimmesdale’s agonizing first confession -- a confession that this time he makes only to himself -- provides a significant “star moment” for the role.
Opening of Act II welcomes the audience back in with a break; it is an upbeat, parodic number with plenty of room for humor and farce. The witches’ dance is satire; they join what they reject and reject what they join. An unexpected dose of fun.
“The Election Day Sermon”
Confession at last; in this final sweep of emotion each of the characters again tells his story. As the clamor builds to a fervor and frenzy we finally attain the purging, the inexorable revelation, that we have been seeking since Hester accepts her sentence in silence on the first judgment day.